School of Life Sciences

UKZN’s postgraduate bird group hands on with the Capped Wheatear at Darvill.

The Capped Wheatear at Darvill

On Thursday, 5 July 2018, The Witness had a front-page article about Maritzburg “twitchers” going to see a Capped Wheatear at Darvill.

This species is unusually found in KwaZulu-Natal with the distribution maps of the bird books suggesting that there have been some previous incidental sightings of the species in the province.

The UKZN-PMB postgraduate bird group made a trip to Darvill on that Thursday to do birding and some research related tasks. The group goes there often because of the monthly bird ringing that has been happening every month for about 40 years and for other projects that use the site. ‘All our research activities with animals are approved by the UKZN ethics committee and we have permits from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to catch and handle animals. After hearing about the Capped Wheatear, we thought we may as well try to catch it and ring it,’ said Preshnee Singh, Research Assistant to Professor Colleen Downs, in the School of Life Science.

Bird ringing is a method to gain valuable data about birds by catching and attaching a metal ring, each of which has a unique code. The ring is attached to the bird’s leg by a licensed and trained person in a way that is safe, ethical and aims to limit any inconveniences to it. After the ring is attached, there are many measurements taken such as the length of the wings, tail, head, bill as well as weight, moult and location caught. These data are recorded and submitted to the SAFRING programme run by the University of Cape Town.

‘With the climate changing, we are seeing many changes in bird patterns like some species not migrating anymore or species going into breeding earlier and having ringed them, we can get valuable data about these changes. Some Capped Wheatears move seasonally so the idea with catching this particular one was that if it is caught again, we may get to know where it goes or is from. We setup our traps around where we were told the bird frequents and we caught it. We put a ring on it and did the standard measurements, took some photos and then let it go. It flew off back to where it was foraging, went about its business and is still in the area nearly a week later,’ said Singh.

Words: Preshnee Singh

Photographs: Christophe Baltzinger, Richard Bruton and Ebrahim Ally